Monday, December 15, 2008

An Unfortunate Crime of the Times?

Guest Entry by CaliGirl9!

It was just another day in California’s Silicon Valley on November 14, 2008, when 47-year-old Jing Hua Wu, a Chinese national who had worked in the Bay Area as an engineer for over 10 years, was fired “with cause” from his job at SiPort as a product test engineer. These are difficult times for the tech industry, and no doubt Wu’s sudden unemployment wasn’t the only one suffered in the Bay Area that day.

Following his firing on that that unseasonably warm fall day, Wu requested a meeting with the 56-year-old CEO of SiPort, Inc., Sid Agrawal, the 47-year-old Vice President of Operations Brian Pugh, and the head of human resources, 67-year-old Marilyn Lewis. The trio agreed to meet Wu later that afternoon, and in a conference room at SiPort’s headquarters on 2996 Scott Boulevard in Santa Clara, Wu pulled a 9 mm handgun and calmly dispatched his former supervisors with a bullet to each person’s brain. Wu then nonchalantly walked out to his silver Mercury Mariner SUV and drove off as if it were any other day.

Unfortunately for Wu, everyone in the complex heard the gunshots and saw him return to his vehicle. Two of the three 911 calls released by Santa Clara County reveal that the callers were able to identify Wu by name and describe his clothing and vehicle. Santa Clara police and fire and rescue were on scene nearly immediately, but it was too late. Wu was nowhere to be found, and there were three dead people in a conference room.

Wu’s freedom was short-lived; he was arrested the next morning in nearby Mountain View. The 9 mm handgun was found in the trunk of his rental car. Wu was booked into the Santa Clara County jail mental health ward, and ultimately arraigned on November 19 for three counts of murder, three related gun counts and one special circumstances count for allegedly killing multiple people. This is a possible death penalty case, though no decision has been made according to deputy District Attorney Jeffrey Rosen. The DA will take into considerations Wu’s prior record as well as the wishes of the victims’ next of kin. Wu’s next court appearance is on December 18.

Sid Agrawal was an American success story. An Indian American father of two, Agrawal earned a technical bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology in Kanpur in 1974. He immigrated to the United States in 1975 to complete his education at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, earning his M.S. in electrical engineering in 1977, and finally completing his education at the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business, earning his MBA in general management in 1984.

Wu was also quite the American success story and has done quite well for himself during his time in the United States. He and his wife Jie Zheng Wu, parents of three young sons, managed to collect numerous investment properties starting in 2004, including vacant lots and rental properties, in Hot Springs Village, Arkansas (yes, that same Hot Spring Village sold via late night infomercials starring Erik Estrada, aka “Ponch” from CHiPs), owns two rental properties in Vancouver, Washington and in California, and also owns his family home in Mountain View. There are a total of 19 investment properties owned by Wu and his wife, with those investments said to be worth $2.4 million, though of course some are no doubt now in negative equity with the recent real estate crash.

Upon his arrest, Wu claimed he didn’t have the money for an attorney and a pair of public defenders were assigned to his case. A media report claimed that Wu had earned $110,000 in 2008, and that SiPort had fired him with a generous severance package and the promise of positive letters of reference. Authorities are pouring over Wu’s portfolio to verify that he is truly financially destitute and cannot afford his own counsel.

Thus far there are no “answers” regarding SiPort’s specific reasons for firing Wu (could he have been distracted by “managing” his far-flung investment properties; could he have been in over his head with overwhelming negative equity and not performing his job up to standards?) nor has Wu’s counsel offered the reason for killing Agrawal, Pugh and Lewis. There were no signs that Wu was a violent person—his neighbors described him as quiet and a family man though co-workers did describe Wu as a bit disheveled and as someone who kept to himself. There were no red flags telling Sid Agrawal, Brian Pugh and Marilyn Lewis that their lives were in danger by agreeing to a meeting with a recently-fired employee.

Could this tragic case be a harbinger of things to come? Remember the term “going postal” in reference to the United States Postal Service workplace killings in the early to mid-1980s? The slang term’s original meaning refers to sudden extreme uncontrollable anger to the point of violence in a workplace setting. Between 1986 and 1997, more than 40 people were killed in 20 instances of workplace violence. According to an article in, workplace murders increased by 13 percent in 2007—a total of 610 homicides. In an article posted on TruTV’s website, worker-on-worker violence is the second most common form of workplace violence (criminal acts such as the Murrah Federal Building bombing and the 9/11 attacks are number one), and tend to be clustered in service or retail settings. The typical violent worker is a white male, aged 25 to 50, a loner with a history of violence and a fascination with weapons. Antisocial Personality Disorder and Borderline Personality Disorder appear to be directly linked to workplace violence.

Is there a way that employers can do a better job of screening prospective employees for possible mental illness? In today’s politically correct times, such screenings are looked upon as a violation of someone’s privacy. There is no doubt more people are going to be losing their jobs in all industries and workplaces in today’s troubled economic times. What’s the answer? Metal detectors at every place of employment? Locked doors? Armed guards onsite when people are given their pink slips?

Just how many workplace killings like this one will take place in 2009?

I sure hope I am wrong about being concerned about this type of crime …

Thank you so much, CaliGirl9! Sprocket

Santa Clara triple-killing suspect arrested

Suspect in triple slaying owned 19 properties

Suspect in office deaths described as family man

Triple-slaying suspect could face death penalty

Fewer people die on the job

Workplace homicide is increasing

Tech engineer kills three bosses at Silicon Valley start-up after being sacked


katfish said...

Thanks for a very interesting perspective on an issue that is likely to be a growing problem, unfortunately, I don't think you are wrong to be concerned. Not so much that people are crazier now than in the past, rather just the odds increase by the volume of workers let go.
As someone who worked many years in retail management and was responsible for hiring and firing employees this is an issue that i have given a great deal of thought.
IMO,There is really no way to anticipate whether or not someone would do something like this, unless there is an outright threat made. In the cases that I have heard of, the killings don't usually take place at the time of termination but later.
Treating people in a respectful manner when dealing with a termination would seem like a logical way to avoid something like this, but the Wu case shows that even that doesn't prevent someone from "going postal". As you reported, even though SiPort had fired Wu with a generous severance package and the promise of positive letters of reference. There were no red flags telling Sid Agrawal, Brian Pugh and Marilyn Lewis that their lives were in danger by agreeing to a meeting with the recently-fired employee.
The scariest termination I ever had to handle was an employee I had to let go for bringing a firearm to work....I said my prayers before and after that one.

CaliGirl9 said...

A new twist on workplace violence: kill the boss’ (and workplace) dog.

Disgruntled Ex-Employee Kills Company Dog

TURLOCK, CA - The Turlock Golf and Country Club is mourning the loss of one of its most loyal employees this month, a border collie named Quinn.
The Merced County Sheriff's Department said Quinn was shot and killed Dec. 16 when a former golf course employee, Franco Garcia Aguilar, 21, walked onto the golf course and shot and killed the dog who was boarded in his kennel near the course's maintenance area.
Turlock Golf and Country Club General Manager Michael Blevins said Aguilar was laid off from the golf course's maintenance crew sometime in November.
According to Merced County Sheriff's Deputy Tom MacKenzie, Aguilar was being held on a previous domestic violence charge when he also confessed to shooting the dog three times with a 12-gauge shotgun in the early morning hours of Dec. 16.
Aguilar told the Merced County Sheriff's Department that he was "mad at his boss" and killed the dog to get back him. Aguilar's boss Joel Erickson had been the dog's handler at the club.
Aguilar faces charges of animal cruelty and burglary as well as the previous domestic violence charge.
Blevins said it's been a significant loss. Aside from being the club's unofficial mascot, Quinn was responsible for chasing away the flocks of Canada geese that would settle on and near the golf course.
"You can understand vandalism," Blevins said. "But to take out your aggression on a helpless animal is really sick."
Blevins said the club is now looking into using remote control boats to chase the geese away from the course.
Geese have been a nuisance at the club because of the high amount of excrement and general damage they have caused to the turf. Blevins said Quinn was very good at his job and the players enjoyed watching him at work.
"He was a pleasure to watch. It looked like he was playing with the geese," Blevins said. "It is a significant loss."